The dinner thought-process #1

Bao*. Soft, fluffy, folded-over pillowy buns stuffed with zingy, crunchy vegetables and some kind of crispy fried meat slathered in a piquant sauce. This is exactly what I want to eat right now. Or later today would suffice.

I’ve had “Oh my God, that’s good” bao and I’ve also had damp, almost slimy buns with fillings that are barely one notch up on an excitement scale from a pre-packaged sandwich filling.

So, really, taking advantage of the fact I live a short walk from the Vietnamese shops (read *(1) below to see that I now know the bao I want are not Vietnamese, and neither are any bao) on Deptford High Street, surely I could easily find the ingredients to make some bao with an exciting, meaty, authentic filling.

I have a Vietnamese cookery book, which, ominously, I’ve used, to date, solely as an imaginary menu rather than as a recipe book. I recall its being rather complicated, with ingredients I know nothing about and techniques and utensils that I could only attempt to replicate with the help of Google or YouTube.

As for the bao, the idea came to me after reading a travel piece about Hanoi (you can see how I got in a muddle with their origin), with mention of a shop serving incredible bao (yes, not only do I have bao in mind, I have seen a photo of exactly the ones I want to eat, which is causing me increasing concern for the recreate-potential of so perfect a benchmark). The Vietnam cookery book was a slight tangent, I had not quite registered that the bao I have in mind are Taiwanese, though the more rounded dumplingy bao, which would do me almost as well, are Chinese. Anyway, back to My Vietnam by Luke Nguyen, incidentally a beautifully presented and very appetising menu recipe book. No, wait, the Vietnamese element was the tangent. The buns, back to the buns.

It has never occurred to me I might actually be able to make the buns. Fluffy things have never been within my skillset. Similarly, every dumpling dough, fresh egg pasta and non-rock-like scone I have ever attempted has ended in a bout of disappointment, which my partner would probably also associate with easily-ignitable grumpiness. Food features in the top three of my disappointment scale, though the hat trick of Boris Johnson, Brexit shambles and Covid-19 mis-management may demote food fails into fourth place, but to delve into that would be another tangent.

[Some time elapses while I Google and look through my Vietnamese, Chinese and Asian cookery books]

No bao today. It seems I’m not in the mood for waiting for yeast to work its wonders and the filling I really want to make, char sui (sticky BBQ beef), is itself a whole meal in terms of time and effort. Also, going through recipe books:

*(1) Bao are not Vietnamese in origin (and neither is char sui). It would have been more accurate to say gua bao, which is the Taiwanese style of bao I had envisioned, a pork-belly-filled circular folder of soft, steamed dough;

(2) I reiterate and have been reminded that Vietnamese food in recipe books is infinitely more appealing as a menu than a DiY route to dinner. For example, picking a page, honestly at random, a recipe for tamarind beef and cucumber salad. On a menu? Yes, please, I’ll have that. However, to make, I have fewer than half the ingredients (six out of fourteen), one ingredient is a mystery to me in terms of taste, appearance (for the purposes of perusing the bags of miscellaneous greenery in the Vietnamese store I had in mind to shop at) and potential for a more recognisable and available substitute (sawtooth herb; prior to Googling, I’m thinking a green leaf with a tight-knit zig-zag edge), one is a slight niggle (is Vietnamese mint as different as Thai basil is to UK basil?) and four of the ingredients are procured only by following recipes on other pages of the book which;

(3) makes one recipe into – admittedly my logic, not necessarily shared by all – five recipes. And I’m a recipe-by-recipe kind of cook. On the plus side, the method looks quick and easy and the photo makes me want to eat it.

We will neither be having bao nor Vietnamese food for dinner. And anyway, I’d forgotten that we need to eat by 7pm, ahead of my partner’s twelve-hour fast ahead of his 8am diabetes blood test, and;

(4) all Vietnamese recipes seem to have either sugar or other sweetening ingredients in them, which in light of the next-day diabetes test seems, indeed is, wrong.

I have resorted to a fish curry with black rice (good for diabetics) for dinner, the curry recipe being from a diabetes cookery book and about which I have limited enthusiasm for eating, in particular because the “curry” element doesn’t have as many ingredients as I would expect and hope for in an Indian recipe. This morning’s early food enthusiasm has virtually dissipated, I have lost all enthusiasm for the day’s meals and I feel robbed of food-related joy.

(You may be thrilled to hear that there was a glimmer of revived food joy on making and eating pulled pork (ahem, bought ready-pulled; I do so love Waitrose) and spring onion macaroni cheese for lunch, comfort food consolation for the disappointment of this morning’s short-lived promise of bao or a Vietnamese feast.)

(You may also appreciate knowing that, to my enormous surprise, the uninspiring fish curry was lovely, my partner seemed to think it was the best thing ever (he didn’t know there was an entire 250g of spinach in the curry; not a feature of a more authentic fish curry or something he’d normally be that excited about) and even the black rice with almonds, cooked in vegetable stock, was tasty. I actually enjoyed it, though eaten with less enthusiasm than a near-perfect gua bao.)